5 steps to create an Explorer program for your department
There are many reasons to start a police Explorer program, not the least of which is to provide the department a pool of prospective officers.
Editor’s Note: This week’s PoliceOne First Person essay is from PoliceOne Member Richard Macchia. In PoliceOne "First Person" essays, our Members and Columnists candidly share their own unique view of the world. This is a platform from which individual officers can share their own personal insights on issues confronting cops today, as well as opinions, observations, and advice on living life behind the thin blue line. If you want to share your own perspective with other P1 Members, simply send us an email with your story.
By Richard Macchia, PoliceOne Member
Why would a department want an Explorer Post? The reasons are numerous. It can provide youth with an opportunity to experience new things and see new places, it gives them an environment where they learn self-discipline, self-worth, and leadership, and it would help them develop work ethic. Plus it would provide the department with a pool of prospective officers.
Explorers can supplement police services like traffic control, which helps smaller departments that do not have the manpower to cover parade routes. A post is also as diverse as the community and Explorers can help in understanding different cultures and provide language services.
1. Allocate resources
Starting and managing a Police Explorer Post is time consuming. Volunteers who run a successful Post should be prepared to give a lot of free time. Shrinking department budgets make it hard to justify overtime for Exploring. Departments have to get creative in compensating an officer for his time.
Running a post is like running a department. You have the same issues: equipping, scheduling, discipline, training, recruiting and budget.
First, write a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for the program. Get a copy from another Explorer Post and create procedures specific to your department. Once approved, it is time to start building your post.
2. Create an application
The application for candidates should include a waiver to be signed by the parent. Some of the things Explorers do are risky: ridealongs, shooting, and traffic control. The waiver contains a release of liability, permission to participate, authorization to treat a minor and a photo/video release.
Application information should provide you with personal information to perform a background investigation and to create a personnel file. If someone needs medical attention, all the information in the personnel file will be needed by the hospital, including the waiver.
Explorer Programs are under The Boys Scouts of America who provide injury insurance. The age range is 14 – 21 year old males and females.
3. Choose a Uniform
In running a police Explorer program, you always have watch for departmental liability. This includes uniforms. Dressing an Explorer to look the same as the department’s officers can be dangerous.
Scenario: An Explorer is on a ride-along and the officer he is riding with gets into a shoot-out with a suspect. If the Explorer is dressed the same as the officer, the possibility exists that the suspect will mistake the Explorer for an officer, and engage the young person.
It’s a good idea to use different color uniforms, badges, and large patches indicating they are Explorers. There is no guarantee a suspect will not engage the Explorer but it will give them a visual cue that they are not police and deny the chance to say in court “I thought he was a cop.”
4. Secure Funding
Apply for 501c non-profit organization status. This helps when asking for donations. Showcase your Explorer Post to the public. Go to local service clubs and give a presentation the clubs will get excited about and will want to make your post one of their community projects and give donations. Provide businesses with your non-profit number; they will willingly give you a donation and write it off on their taxes. Look for big events in your area that may need traffic control, parking or a presence for the event.
The Explorers can perform traffic duties and take great pride in helping meet traffic goals and have fun doing it. Organizers of large events usually give a larger donation to help with their event. Officers accompany the Explorers and having law enforcement presence gives them peace of mind for the event.
5. Find Recruits
Recruit from your local high school. Go to the school during lunch and set up a table outside the cafeteria. Bring a uniform display and talk with inquiring students. Focus on fun things: a summer camp trip or out of town details. We have a wilderness camp our local Boy Scout Council owns. Check with your BSA District. Mix the work with fun to keep them participating. Camaraderie increases the more time they spend together.
An Explorer Post can be as large as your leaders are able to manage. My first post was in a city with a population of about 77,000 and our post size averaged about 35 but at its largest it was 45 individuals. I have since moved to a department in a smaller city with a population of close to 14,000. Our post size here is around 60 with its largest size at 70. To see our post in operation see our website.